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Alcohol and sleep

Having trouble sleeping? Find out why alcohol makes you tired and how alcohol could be contributing to your sleepless nights

You’ve had a long and busy day. A drink or two will help you sleep, won’t it?

Alcohol might help you nod off, but even just a couple of drinks can affect the quality of your sleep. And if you're regularly drinking more than the UK Chief Medical Officers' (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines by consuming more than 14 units a week you may find you wake up the next day feeling like you haven't had any rest at all.

How alcohol affects your sleep patterns

Regular drinking can affect the quality of your sleep making you feel tired and sluggish. This is because drinking disrupts your sleep cycle1.

Several sleepless nights have an impact on our day-to-day mental health, for example, on our mood, concentration and decision-making. And while alcohol might help some people nod off, even a couple of drinks can affect the quality of our sleep. If you're regularly drinking more than the low risk drinking guidelines, you may find you wake up the next day feeling like you haven't had much rest at all. Regularly drinking alcohol can disrupt sleep. For example, a heavy drinking session of more than six units in an evening, can make us spend more time in deep sleep and less time than usual in the important Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep, which is an important restorative stage of sleep our bodies need2. This can leave us feeling tired the next day - no matter how long we stay in bed.

But having alcohol-free days can help. You should be sleeping better and find it easier to wake up in the morning.

Drinking can equal a disturbed night’s sleep

When you drink more than usual, you may have to get up in the night to go to the toilet. And it's not just the liquid you've drunk that you'll be getting rid of. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it encourages the body to lose extra fluid through sweat too, making you dehydrated.

Drinking can also make you snore loudly. It relaxes the muscles in your body, which means the tissue in your throat, mouth and nose can stop air flowing smoothly, and is more likely to vibrate.

So, all in all alcohol can equal a fitful night's sleep.

Find out if you're drinking too much with our Alcohol Self-Assessment Test

Why you should avoid alcohol just before bedtime

If you are drinking alcohol, try to avoid it too close to bedtime. Give your body time to process the alcohol you've drunk before you try to sleep – on average it takes an hour to process one unit, but this can vary widely from person to person.

Find out how many units are in your drinks with our Unit and Calorie Calculator

Download the free Drinkaware app to keep track of what you're drinking over time and set yourself goals for cutting back.

You could still be over the drink driving limit the next morning, understand the risks

Tips for a good night’s sleep

Some things to try if you want to sleep soundly and wake up feeling fresh:

  • Stay away from caffeine and alcohol late in the evening. Try a hot, milky or herbal drink instead.
  • Make sure your bedroom is cool and uncluttered, and your bed is comfortable.
  • Take exercise to relieve the day's stresses and strains.
  • Make lists of things to be tackled the next day before you go to bed, so they're not swimming around in your head.

(1) Roehrs, T. and Roth, T., (2001) Sleep, sleepiness, and alcohol use. Alcohol research and Health, 25(2), pp.101-109.
(2) Ibid

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